The 2006 Iowa Gatorade high school Player of the Year waited patiently behind 2010 draft pick A.J. Edds (selected in the fourth round by Miami) and other veterans, but looked the part of a solid NFL prospect in 2010 when healthy.
Nielsen redshirted in 2007, and then played special teams and a minor role on defense as a freshman (12 tackles) and sophomore (seven). He started the first eight games of the 2010 season on the strong side, making 42 tackles, 4.5 for loss, an interception, and four pass break-ups, but his season ended prematurely after he broke a vertebrae in his neck against Michigan (though he played through it for a game and a half before succumbing).
Apparently Nielsen's neck had healed enough by April 2011, as he spent his last spring break hunting wild boars in Arkansas. His straight-line speed, change of direction ability, and strong open-field tackling proficiency makes him look as though he could wrestle down a boar, and makes him a similar value to Edds as a potential starting Sam linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme at the next level.
Read & React: Heady, well-coached player. Quick recognizing and reacting run vs. pass when playing near the line. Cognizant of multiple routes when in coverage, knows when to get off one route to jump another and ably chases down receivers when seeing the play in front of him.
Run Defense: Spends a lot of time outside the box in coverage, but has the strength to hold the edge in the nine-technique against large tight ends and linemen. Good quickness to attack ballcarriers when playing near the line, breaks down and wraps legs to make the stop. Height leaves him susceptible to cut blocks, must learn to defeat with his hands.
Pass Defense: Excellent in coverage. Stays with tight ends and receivers in the slot with very good straight-line speed and change of direction ability for his size. Discipline, aware zone defender, does not vacate his area despite initial receiver heading downfield. Height makes him tough to throw over. Breaks down to wrap up running backs in the flat or tight ends flaring towards the sideline.
Tackling: Combination of size, length, and agility makes him a secure tackler in space. Keeps his head up and wraps the waist-to-thigh while keeping his feet moving until the player is on the ground. Inconsistent getting off blocks from smaller offensive players, gets moved or out-positioned, forced to chase down plays from behind. Leaves his feet at times, but usually has a fair grasp of the ballcarrier. Sometimes heads straight-on to quick receivers instead of anticipating their route, allowing them to elude him.
Pass Rush/Blitz: Not asked to blitz in team's scheme, usually in a stack or lined up over tight end. Possesses the relative speed, change of direction, and secure tackling ability to succeed as a free blitzer. Would need to use his hands more violently to defeat blocks while coming after the quarterback at the next level.
Intangibles: Multiple-season Academic All-Big Ten pick. Elected to team's Leadership Group all four years. Suffered broken vertebrae in his neck in October 2010, four neck brace for 10 weeks, cleared for contact in January 2011. Graduated in May 2011. Family owns John Deere dealership."
Isn’t the most fluid of individuals however. Lacks ideal fluidity when asked to turn and run, but possesses good straight-line speed for the position. Locates the ball well and is physical down the field. At his best feeling routes in zone where he can get early jumps on the football. Displays some balance and coordination with his footwork when trying to re-direct, takes good angles on the ball after a completion and wraps well on contact.
Isn’t quite as instinctive vs. the run game inside as he is vs. the pass. Doesn’t take the most consistent of angles when attacking downhill and will run himself out of plays. His hip tightness shows up in the run game as well, as he struggles to breakdown in space, lacks ideal lateral quickness and will slip off tackles when he has the chance to wrap.
Isn’t real physical when asked to take on blocks in any area of the game as he will even struggle to disengage vs. receivers in the slot at times. Suffered a broken vertebra in his neck that kept him out the second part of the season in 2010 and needs to prove his medical is clean.
Impression: Displays natural instincts from the slot in the pass game and runs well for the position. However, isn’t real impressive vs. the run and looks like a special teams/reserve guy only to me."
Shows good read-and-react skills and is strong-handed to jam tight ends and shed blocks.
Is alert in zone coverage to pass off receivers, reroute crossers and leverage routes.
While he has man-coverage limitations (loses separation), he has ample speed to carry backs and tight ends vertically and shows awareness to play the pocket.
Wrap tackler whose limited twitch and poor change of direction limit ceiling to that of a 4-3 swing backup/special-teams player."
Tall OLB with long arms can play over the TE and does a nice job fighting off blocks at the point of attack;
Smart, instinctive with good speed and range, although he’s a little stiff and doesn’t change direction all that well;
Not a natural blitzer, but effective in both zone and man coverage; had 42 tackles last fall with an interception and 4 other pass breakups."